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Crossover Utility Vehicle of the Year: Roomy 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe is a winner

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2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Photo by Kevin McCauley
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
Santa Fe's panoramic roof really opens the cabin space, giving an airy feeling. Courtesy of Hyundai Motor America
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
Available are second-row captain's chairs for a luxurious configuration for six passengers that also provides easy access to the third row. Hyundai Motor America
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
Thoughtful details include under-cargo floor storage and a 50/50 split folding third row seat. Hyundai Motor America
2014 Fiat 500L
FIAT 500L in Lux (left) and Trekking (right) trims. Courtesy of Chrysler Group
2014 Fiat 500L
The rear of the 500L attempts to embody the spirit of the tiny 500 city car. Courtesy of Chrysler Group
2014 Fiat 500L
Flexible seating adds to the multimission design of the 500L with a flat-front-folding passenger seat. Courtesy of Chrysler Group
2014 Fiat 500L
Interior and exterior color and finish combinations abound; the 500L comes in more than 30 combinations. Courtesy of Chrysler Group
2014 Fiat 500L
Trekking trim stylistically lends itself to the multipurpose nature of the 500L, making it look "more the part" to us. Photo by Nic Phillips
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
2014 Fiat 500L
2014 Fiat 500L
2014 Fiat 500L
2014 Fiat 500L
2014 Fiat 500L

Editor's Note: In the second annual CultureMap Auto Awards, our automotive correspondents Nic Phillips and Kevin McCauley bestow honors in 10 categories for the top cars and trucks of 2013/2014 and explain why they're deserving of a good hard look. For our second award of the year:

Crossover Utility Vehicle of the Year: 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe

We were big fans of Hyundai's all new SantaFe Sport in our annual awards last year, giving it the runner-up in category. This year Hyundai brought us the longer wheelbase, "full-size Santa Fe," taking our top spot as biggest proves to be better in Crossovers. Not that Santa Fe is huge; it's less than 10 inches longer than the Sport, but we think it's right-sized, with three-rows of seating, a spacious, airy interior that, at 160.0 cubic-feet, is one of the largest interior volumes in class.

 The SantaFe is right-sized, with three-rows of seating, a spacious, airy interior that is one of the largest interior volumes in class. 

The Santa Fe is handsomely styled inside and out, successfully bridging the gap between bland economy people movers and far more expensive luxury options without giving up too much. Available is a panoramic power glass roof, proximity smart key access, Hyundai blueLink telematics, heated and cooled leather seats in four tasteful colors and a choice of a 40/20/40 split-folding bench seat or captain's chairs for the second row seating. Even base models come well equipped with heated cloth seats trimmed in innovative YES Essentials®, stain-resistant, anti-static fabric, color audio display and rearview camera. 

Also new is a standard 3.3L V-6 engine with direct fuel injection it gives a class-leading 290 horsepower and mated to a smooth shifting 6-speed automatic, it's EPA rated to 25 mpg highway. That fuel economy is mid-pack in the segment, but weighting some 400 pounds less than it's competitors, the Santa Fe drives more nimbly with less hefty to shift about.

Starting just under $30,000 and backed by a 5-year/60,000 mile new vehicle warranty and a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, Santa Fe is a clear value winner.

CUV of the Year Runner-up: 2014 FIAT 500L

In keeping with the bigger but not too much bigger theme, our runner-up in the crossover utility category isn't really a crossover at all... or is it? The 500L is FIAT's answer to a larger, more passenger and stuff friendly version of the stylish super-sub-compact 500 and it's an interesting package. Outside it's nearly two feet longer than the 500, but remains short overall, more than 10 inches shorter than a Toyota RAV4 or Ford Escape CUV. Yet inside the 500L is a 100 cubic-foot cavern slotting right between the conventional RAV's 101 and Escape's 98 cubic-feet volumes.

It's shape may look a little funny, but we chalk that up to the "​Italian Cinquecento charm" of the 500. It's a breath of fresh air in a generally boring box utility vehicle space. Driving the 500L is equally unique, with all models getting the growly 1.4L MultiAir turbo four-cylinder engine from the 500 Abarth hot hatch  and a 6-speed manual option and while is top heavy, it's about driving character which is, well, fun! There are four trims with the "Trekking" model taking on a more utilitarian outfitting befitting its boxy profile. 

Pricing starts at just $19,995 and in the mid-$20's you get all the options. Also consider that EPA estimates fuel economy at 25 mpg city/33 highway, easily besting more conventional CUV's.

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